Hoop City USA
Tobacco Road, watch your back. Gainesville, better enjoy that trophy while you’ve got it. LA is back with a vengeance and is ready to reclaim its place atop the college basketball kingdom.
With UCLA and USC both advancing to the Sweet 16 for only the second time ever, the local buzz hasn’t been this great in decades. The Bruins have been a consistently good program since the departure of John Wooden from the sidelines (12 Sweet 16 appearances), but only occasionally great (1995 champion, Final Fours in 1976, 1980, and 2006), certainly a far cry from their magical run of ten national titles in twelve seasons. Meanwhile, the Trojans’ hoops squads have been mostly an afterthought, with momentary flashes of excellence (the Harold “Baby Jordan” Miner and Clancy/Scalabrine/Bluthenthal teams come to mind) amongst continued mediocrity (five NCAA tournament wins total over the last 45 years).
For perhaps the first time in the modern era, it appears that both schools are well-positioned for long-term success. Though both schools face tall tasks to continue to advance in this year’s tournament (UCLA facing off with its coach’s old program Pitt, USC drawing top-seed North Carolina), the pieces are in place for these deep postseason runs to become an annual occurrence. Both teams are led by terrific coaches – the Bruins’ Ben Howland and the Trojans’ Tim Floyd – who are proven program builders, and integrate order and discipline with top-notch strategy; witness USC’s dismantling of trendy pick Texas and likely player-of-the-year Kevin Durant. Both teams have tremendous athletes all over their respective rosters. And both teams are landing the highest-regarded prep recruits (Kevin Love for UCLA, OJ Mayo and his weed for USC) to replenish the talent pool. This is great news for LA hoop fans, bad news for the Pac 10 and the rest of the nation.